Annaud 'stupefied' by Academy's decision to drop Wolf Totem

Annaud 'stupefied' by Academy's decision to drop Wolf Totem
French director Jean-Jacques Annaud attends a press conference to promote his new movi eWolf Totem in Beijing.

Oscar-winning French director Jean-Jacques Annaud denounced Academy Award organizers yesterday after his Sino-French co-production, Wolf Totem, was dropped from the Oscar race for being insufficiently Chinese.

Annaud said he was "stupefied" by the Academy's last-minute move and called the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences a "banana republic level of arbitrariness".

Wolf Totem, the story of a young man's triumph over wolves in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, was shot in both Mandarin and Mongolian in China with Chinese actors. Earlier this month, Chinese media reported widely that the film could be China's entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2016 Oscars.

"When we looked at the creative make-up of Wolf Totem and realized that the director, two of the three writers, one of the producers, the DOP (director of photography), the editor and the composer were not Chinese, we determined that the film could not qualify as a Chinese entry," Annaud said, citing a letter from the Academy during an interview with AFP.

"I believe that the selection committee completely forgot the importance of actors in a film. It's the same as ignoring the content of the film," Annaud added.

"I am stupefied," he said. "Suddenly, the rules changed. It was almost a banana republic-level of arbitrariness."

Nominees for Best Foreign Language Film are selected based on submissions from individual countries, which can only put forward one entry each year.

Wolf Totem was replace with Go Away, Mr. Tumor, a domestic film about a cartoonist's optimistic and tear-jerking battle with lymphoid cancer.

The news shocked China's social media. "Are you sure this isn't a joke?" asked one user on Sina Weibo, China's equivalent to Twitter.

La Peikang, chairman of China Film Group and biggest backer of Wolf Totem, said he was "deeply shocked" by the decision.

To Annaud, the disqualification will be an "enormous problem" for future co-productions in a state that has opened its doors to foreign influences.

He accused Hollywood of a "nearly protectionist" double standard where "American cinema can feed off foreign talent without reservation. But foreign cinema must remain tribal."

"Perhaps there's an American worry with respect to the internationalization of Chinese cinema," he said. "Why shouldn't China be afforded the same possibilities?"

China's entry last year was The Nightingale, another Sino-French co-production with a French director. The only Chinese film to be shortlisted for an Oscar was Zhang Yimou's Hero in 2003.